Simon Amstell making Maria, film comedy with Star Wars' Felicity Jones

Thursday 5th May 2022, 10:22am by Jay Richardson

Felicity Jones

Simon Amstell has shared details of his next film, a comedy called Maria.

The comic had previously said he needed to secure finance at the Cannes Film Festival to make his third feature a reality. Having raised that in France, production is now scheduled to begin in the autumn.

Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) takes the title role in the movie, which Amstell has written and is directing, playing a young woman with a history of running from reality.

Struggling to accept her age, her boyfriend's love and her father's indifference, Maria spots an opportunity to feel young, free and desirable at her father's wedding, where she meets Raffy, her new stepbrother. Their obvious, if inconvenient, sexual chemistry is made worse by the news that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

W1A and Crashing star Jonathan Bailey plays Maria's boyfriend Eddy, while Jason Isaacs (The Death Of Stalin) will take on the role of her father.

"I'm incredibly excited to begin shooting Maria this year with Felicity Jones," Amstell told industry website Deadline. "Our hope is that making a film about our culture's fear of ageing and death will be an absolute sensation."

Independent Entertainment is launching sales in Cannes on the project, with Louise Palmkvist Hansen producing for EMU Films (Going To Mecca, The Show). EMU Films' Michael Elliott, Jim Mooney and Walli Ullah join Amstell in executive producing, along with Cora Palfrey and Sarah Lebutsch from Independent Entertainment.

Simon Amstell

Amstell has previously written and directed two films, the 2017 mockumentary Carnage, satirically looking back on the present when meat-eating is socially acceptable from the perspective of a 2067 when veganism is the norm; and 2018's Benjamin, a comedy drama about the eponymous filmmaker's struggle to connect with his French musician boyfriend.

The character of Maria will be "even more deranged" than writer-director Benjamin, Amstell told NME last year. "There was one scene where I had my character masturbating in a tree and my [female] agent thought that would be tricky for the average woman to do so I removed it," he explained. "But apart from that, I had someone's voice in mind when I was writing her so it didn't feel different."

Amstell acknowledged the loosely autobiographical elements of Maria in an interview with BBC Radio Kent, likening it to his current stand-up show Spirit Hole, with the two projects sharing similar themes of "control" and anxiety about middle-age.

The film is "a bit about what the stand-up starts being about, which is about a person terrified of getting older and what do you do about that? Her crisis is worse than mine is, slightly. It's about learning to grow up, learning to take responsibility, for yourself and other people."

Amstell, who starred in and co-wrote the BBC Two sitcom Grandma's House between 2010 and 2012, is also working on an undisclosed television project, telling Graham Norton on his Virgin Radio show in January that "there's this other TV thing that all seems to be going quite well as well".

He resumes the Spirit Hole tour on May 15th at the Warwick Arts Centre Theatre in Coventry and runs until 16th July.

Trying Again. Matt (Chris Addison). Copyright: Avalon Television

Meanwhile, fellow stand-up-turned-filmmaker Chris Addison is casting his latest feature.

His first British film, based on a true story, Miri is a drama about a girl from the Stamford Hill Orthodox Jewish community in London. As a girl, she finds joy in dancing, something her loving but strict Orthodox family put a stop to.

Then at 17, quite by accident, she sees ice skating for the first time and her life changes. With the help of Des, a skating teacher in his 40s, who has never quite got over the loss of the bright future he once had, she secretly starts to learn and is adopted into her local ice rink's community. It's everything she's wanted but can she go on living a double life?

The Thick Of It star Addison, whose directing credits include the sitcoms Breeders and Veep, made his feature directing debut in 2019 with The Hustle, a gender swap remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.

The erstwhile stand-up, who has Austrian Jewish ancestry, shared a casting notice for Miri's "sparky, witty direct, infectiously likeable" titular protagonist on social media, writing: "Hey! We're casting a moofie, and we're looking for a young actress who is Jewish or of Jewish heritage (one parent's the key here). It's the main role but NO EXPERIENCE IS NECESSARY.

"Technically, I could play the part but others in the casting process have 'views' on this. So let's find the right person."

Miri will shoot for seven weeks in London after September and is being produced by Will Clarke (Vic & Bob's The Glove, Attack The Block) for Altitude Films (Moonlight, The Irishman) and Ellie Wood (The Dig) for her new production company Clearwood Films.

Breeders, starring Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard as stressed parents, will return for a third series on Sky television shortly, after debuting on US channel FX next week.

Benjamin

Benjamin is the critically acclaimed feature debut from the comedian, actor, writer and director Simon Amstell.

The bittersweet comedy tells the story of Benjamin (Colin Morgan), a rising star filmmaker who is thrown into emotional turmoil on the brink of premiering his second film, when Billie, his hard-partying publicist, introduces him to a mesmeric French musician called Noah.

Set among the back streets of East and North London, the film boasts original music from James Righton of The Klaxons and great performances from its cast including Colin Morgan, Phénix Brossard, Joel Fry, Jack Rowan, Jessica Raine and Anna Chancellor.

First released: Monday 13th May 2019

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